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ENGAGE: A Game-based Curricular Strategy for Infusing Computational Thinking into Middle School Science

Overview:

The STEM+Computing Partnership (STEM+C) program seeks to advance multidisciplinary integration of computing in STEM teaching and learning through applied research and development across one or more domains. Building on a previously developed and tested prototype for computer science education in a middle school oceanography elective, the ENGAGE project's objective is to design and study a more comprehensive curricular strategy for middle school life science using a game-based learning environment that will deeply integrate computational thinking practices within the life science curriculum. Topics will include the study of interdependent relationships of species in ecosystems, matter and energy in organisms and ecosystems, and natural selection of species and their adaptations for survival. Along with a focus on student learning, the project will develop and study a teacher professional development model to support teachers in the integration of computational thinking in middle school life science. Principal Investigators will gather specific evidence about the ways in which game-based learning can effectively support computationally rich science practices aligned with the new Science Education Framework (National Research Council, 2012) and the Computer Science Teachers' Association, Computer Science Education Computational Thinking Framework (2016). Specifically, the effort will: (1) design an innovative curricular strategy and novel game-based learning environment to develop computationally rich science practices (developing and using models, and analyzing and interpreting data), for middle school students from North Carolina and Florida; (2) investigate how middle school students develop computational thinking practices (creating abstractions and models, analyzing problems and artifacts, and developing computational artifacts) in middle school science classrooms with the game-based learning environment; and (3) develop an evidence-based teacher professional development program that supports teachers in the deep integration of computational thinking into middle grades science.
The overarching research question will be: How can deep, mastery-oriented gameplay develop core computational thinking practices in middle school life science? Related sub-questions will include: (a) How can game-based learning promote the development of students' science and engineering practices?; (b) How can game-based learning promote student mastery of computational thinking deeply infused science education?; and (c) How can game-based learning for computationally rich science improve students' attitudes in science with regard to short-term self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, and long-term STEM career interest? The project will undertake three types of activities carried out in parallel across each year of the project. First, it will develop and iteratively refine the curricular strategy and collaborative game-based learning environment, which will be implemented at partner middle schools in North Carolina and Florida, with increasing numbers of teachers and students participating in each succeeding year. Second, the study will develop, implement, and refine the corresponding professional development materials and associated online and face-to-face activities. The teacher professional development will be implemented throughout the school year, utilizing both a summer institute and ongoing school-based support. Third, classroom studies will be conducted to build the evidence base on how middle school students can most effectively develop computationally rich science practices. For the classroom studies, the project will compare three conditions: (1) the baseline condition (standard science classroom practice with no project implementation) will utilize teachers who have not previously participated in the project; (2) the project-without-game condition, where students will participate in an implementation of the curricular strategy that provides out-of-game computational problem solving on data-rich science problems outside of the game, but does not provide the game-based learning experiences; and (3) implementation of a full version of the ENGAGE curricular strategy that provides both game-based learning experiences, as well as outside-of-game computational problem solving. Data-gathering strategies throughout the three-year duration of the study will include: classroom observations, individual teacher interviews, student and teacher focus groups, project-developed assessments, embedded game-based learning assessments, student-created artifact assessments, pre- and posttest assessments, and assessments of science and STEM attitudes. Data interpretation strategies will include: comparative analysis of scores across years and across the three experimental conditions, observational and formative analyses to guide refinement of learning tasks, qualitative and quantitative analyses of student performance and growth, and formative analysis of changes in self-reported attitudes. The main outcome of the project will be a research-informed and field-tested prototype integrating computational thinking into science learning at the middle school level. An external organization will conduct the formative and summative evaluations.


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Min, Wookhee and Frankosky, Megan and Mott, Bradford and Wiebe, Eric and Boyer, Kristy E and Lester, James. "Inducing Stealth Assessors from Game Interaction Data," Artificial Intelligence in Education, 2017. 

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